Intelligent Machines

Ready, Set...Render!

For some people, everything is a contest-even “ray tracing,” which renders a scene in realistic 3-D by computer modeling of light rays as they bounce around in the virtual world. For the last few years, computer graphics craftspeople have been submitting their work to the Internet Ray Tracing Competition. A panel of judges picks the winners and displays them on this site, which has become an archive of amazing images and animations.

Each contest has a theme, such as “history,”“nature,”“night,”or “great engineering achievements.” The winning entry for one recent topic-imaginary worlds”-depicted,in Dali-esque style,a string quartet having a picnic; the cello and viola snooze parent-like against a tree with a musical score open like a paperback book,while two violins frolic nearby.Another recent winner (theme:”history”) showed the familiar image of the Hindenburg exploding, with the flames and sparks eerily reflected from the surface of the doomed German dirigible.

Visitors to the site can not only view the images but also read brief descriptions by their creators of the tools and techniques they employed.These passages give a glimpse of the dedication, pride and frustration of the artists.Descriptions include how long the computer cranked away to render the image.Times range from a few hours to more than a day-this is not a pursuit for those seeking instant gratification.Though only judges selected by the IRTC administrators have voting privileges, anyone can look at, and comment on, the pictures. Prizes are modest (mainly software from sponsoring companies). Contestants compete for the praise of their peers, in the process building a showcase of graphics achievement.

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